Pebble Time – Times Up

Here are my first (and likely last) impressions of the Pebble Time.
Pebble Time
Introduction

I’ve been a fan of Japanese anime and the like since I was a kid.  One series, however, Johnny Sakko and His Flying Robot was a favorite of mine when I was a kid, growing up in suburban Pittsburgh, PA for a couple of key reasons –

  1. It came on right after Ultraman
  2. Some of the tech it used – like a radio watch that allowed the story’s lead, Johnny, to control the actions of a towering, giant, defense robot – were pretty cool (especially for the late ’60’s and early ’70’s).

The concept behind the watch wasn’t completely new.  Dick Tracy has been using a radio watch to communicate with his team since the comic series launched in October of 1931.  However, it is a total geek-gasm, and it’s totally cool, especially since, we now possess THAT specific technology today.

In this light, I’ve approached my big writing project this summer – my Wearables Roundup – with a great deal of enthusiasm. I love gadgets, and I most especially love gadgets that I can take nearly everywhere with me.  Here’s what we’ve got so far in the series:

I’m still working through a lot of metal gyrations with the Apple Watch.  There’s good and bad there, and it’s going to take a little bit of time to work through a supportable position on it. (Yes, it’s totally cool, but why is it totally cool; and what (if any) is a compelling reason to buy one…?  I’m working on that…)

You may recall that I was – and in many ways still am – a big fan of the Pebble Steel.  Has that changed?  Does the Pebble Time improve on what Pebble and Pebble Steel introduced to the market? Let’s dig up our smartwatch review topics and find out.

Hardware

In many ways, the Pebble Time should be considered the baseline of all smartwatch hardware. It could be because they were one of the first modern smartwatches to hit the market, filling a gap vacated by the exit of the Microsoft SPOT Watch, first introduced to a short, four year lifespan back in 2004.  They continued to be supported three years beyond their death in 2008, finally losing support for their services on 2011-12-31. It could be because  – that’s all that it really does – the baseline of what many smartwatches really are capable of…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The hardware for the Pebble Time has the following basic specifications:

  • Dimensions: 40.5×37.5×9.5 mm
  • Weight: 42.5g (1.5oz, with strap)
  • Band: 22mm (compatible with all 22mm watch bands)

 

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As you can see from the specs and from the pictures, below, this puts it in the same size category as the 38mm Apple Watch. The front casing has an Stainless Steel bezel, but don’t think that this device has a metal casing. It doesn’t, it has a plastic casing. The bezel is just that – a bezel, and while it may be made of Marine Grade Stainless Steel with PVD coating, it really looks more like anodized aluminum than Stainless.  I don’t think it provides much protection for the device.  It’s purely decoration only. However, it does have a nice matte finish and looks good. The watch body also has a thin, curved ergonomic profile, which is supposed to make it a more comfortable, long term wear than watches that don’t have the same type of bend.

 

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The Time has a tough, 2.5D (Gorilla) glass crystal covering an always on, color e-paper display with LED backlight.  The display is clearly readable in both indoor and outdoor lighting, and even though it’s always on, the device comes with a 7-day rated battery life.  This improves on the Pebble and Pebble Steel which went about 5 or so days, depending on use. Seven solid days is pretty decent.  So, high marks to Pebble on this feature. I’ll have more on this in the Battery Life section, below.

However, it’s not all sunshine and daisies for the display.  The biggest problem with it, is that it’s difficult to read in low light situations.  You’d think that the backlight would help here, but it doesn’t. The backlight tends to wash out the display, so it looks more white than anything else, which is unfortunate.  Someone with not so great eyesight, like me, may have trouble reading it in low light situations, and that’s not good.

 

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The Time also has a built in microphone for voice notes and quick replies, however, I don’t know how practical it is.  Yeah, I know, the whole Dick Tracy/ Johnny Sakko thing of talking to your watch is kinda cool, but I haven’t had any real luck with that feature in any other setting other than a quiet room or office; and honestly, if those kinds of places are the only ones that’s any good in, then having a microphone on the Pebble Time is a waste of internal space.

Finally, the Pebble time has a vibrating motor for discreet alerts and alarms, which allow you to silently notify or wake yourself, and not anyone else.  This is a great way of getting up in the morning without some ugly blaring, beeping noise going off in your ear, or the music on your clock radio sending you AND your cat to the ceiling because your kids are smart alecks and have turned the volume on it “all the way up to 11.”  The Time is also water resistant to 30 meters, insuring that an inerrant swim or shower won’t ruin the watch by having it come in contact with water.

On paper, the Pebble Time really looks like a cool smartwatch.  However, the hardware looks, well… campy, I guess is the best way to put it.  The original Pebble wasn’t very professional looking and while competitors like the Microsoft Band (Part 1,Part 2) and the Fitbit Surge are total dork magnets, their somewhat less than high-dollar look and feel can be completely excused due to their heavy fitness tracking functionality.

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Now, before everyone gets their compression pants in a knot, yes.  I know that the Time can “do” fitness related stuff too.  Yeah, but not really.  As with the Pebble, Pebble Steel and now the Pebble Time, all Pebble smartwatches can “do” fitness tracking. However, they are completely dependent on your smartphone or other device to count steps, track progress, etc.  What the watch can do is display data from your connected phone.

Yes, it has an accelerometer and a compass; but it doesn’t have an A/GPS receiver, so it can’t track your progress natively. If you forget your phone or leave it home when you go out on a run or walk, you’re not going to get any fitness data on your workout.  The watch also doesn’t have any heat or heart rate sensors, so don’t look to it to keep track of any physical attributes when you work out either.  The Time also doesn’t work with Google Fit, the Android answer to Apple Health (oh, and it doesn’t work with Apple Health, either…)

When you look at the device as a whole – plastic body and case, rubber/ silicone band, I can’t help but be a bit disappointed.  Maybe it’s because I’m also wearing the Apple Watch, and because I’ve also got an Olio Model One coming.  I don’t know. Honestly, both the Microsoft Band and the Fitbit Surge aren’t “high end” devices.so I know I’m not turning into a watch snob or anything; but I can’t help but be disappointed.

Wearability and Usability

So what is the Pebble Time like to wear and how usable is it?

Great questions.

Like the Fluoroelastomer band on the Apple Watch, the silicone band on the Pebble Time is just as comfortable and just as soft and silky feeling.  However, in long term wear, I had issues with it creating dry patches on my skin. I was not pleased with that at all.  The band simply doesn’t breathe very well, and it’s not surprising. It is, after all… a silicone band.

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The curved hardware casing of the watch ads a level of comfort… I think. Honestly, it’s hard to tell, as with a device this small and thin, it’s difficult to know if a curved case vs. a standard shaped case – i.e. like any other watch – makes any real or noticeable difference.  Honestly, I can’t tell; but it is at least nice to know that the feature is there.

Notifications

Like its predecessors, the Pebble Time gets Notifications right.

Notifications are configurable on your phone and alert you when needed.  With the Time’s Timeline feature, you can even review them as part of your Present or Past Timelines.  The only caution I have here is that you take the time to configure your notifications correctly so that you don’t get bombarded by them . The idea behind the Time – and all other smartwatches for that matter – is to make dealing with them easier and less intrusive.  If you’re constantly checking your watch because you have your Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, etc. social networking accounts dinging your watch, then you likely haven’t improved on anything and have overloaded your ability to effectively and discretely address notifications with the Time (or, again, any other smartwatch).

Connectivity

I do NOT like how the Time interfaces with my iPhone.

The Pebble Time connects to my iPhone 6 the same way my Pebble Steel does – with a regular Bluetooth partnership and then with a Bluetooth LE partnership.  This type of relationship has proven to be problematic in the past.  If the Bluetooth LE partnership doesn’t link up after pairing (and because the LE communication uses its own partnership vs sharing the main Bluetooth pairing, it often can), then you aren’t going to get notifications.  This starts to become evident after things are “too quiet” on the notification front after a while.

I haven’t run into this yet on the Time, but it happens quite often with my Pebble Steel, and it’s very frustrating.

Battery Life

The Pebble Time has a Lithium-ion polymer battery that Pebble rates for up to seven (7) days of battery life.  This is both good and bad.  The good is obvious. The bad may seem silly, but you’ll get it once you hear it.

Seven days of battery life (I got about five and a half during this review, due largely, to all of the fiddling and playing I did) is awesome. I love not having to remember to charge my battery every night. It makes for a much more familiar watch wearing experience.   The magnetic charging port on the Time has been moved to the back of the device as opposed to the side on the Pebble and Pebble Steel. The magnetic port on the Time is also supposed to support future smart accessories, that may be built into a watch strap (hence the move to the back of the watch).

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I have no idea what those accessories may be or when they may be available, so at this point, I wouldn’t worry too much about them or how much they may cost.  IF they show, they can be reviewed and commented on like any other smartwatch accessory for the Apple Watch (or other watch that may have available accessories…but right now, I can’t think of any others.  Can you..??)

Software and Interfaces

At the end of the day, while having a nice bit of hardware on your wrist is nice, what’s going to make or break the device is the software that it uses on device and on your smartphone.  Needless to say, yes… I have opinions on both the device software and the Pebble Time App.

At the end of the day, though, this winds up being nothing more than a shuffle of the cards and a coat of paint.  That is to say, yes… I’m calling the interface a total dud.  Let’s check out why…

Device Software

First and foremost, let’s be clear – from a software perspective, the Pebble Time didn’t bring anything new to the table except its color, ePaper display.

That’s all.

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Yes, I know it has a new software interface. However, the interface on the Time is really nothing more than a reorganization of the information Pebble has had on their watches from day one (except now color enabled), with a new coat of paint.  Pebble Time now organizes your information into three different buckets Past (top, right, device-side button) Present (middle device-side button) and Future (bottom, right, device-side button).  You can review all of your notifications via your Timeline and see what’s most important to you “right now” by simply sticking to the middle and/ or bottom right buttons.  You can review anything you’ve missed by tapping the top right button.

The organization they’ve implemented isn’t a bad idea. In fact, it’s pretty cool; but tying it with the three right side, device buttons is very 2012; and with touch screens available on the Apple Watch and even the Microsoft Band, limiting how you’re reviewing notifications to actions and activities keyed off of buttons on the Time is (now) a bit clunky.  A touch screen implementation with swipes and taps would have been much better; and better received, too.

Finally, and I can’t put it off any longer – ‘cuz this is the right place to mention it – the interface itself is horrible. The screens look as though they were painted by my 7 year old son.  I am so upset about this, to the point where its infuriating.

Again, the word “campy,” comes to mind, and it’s such a shame.  While I know that the Pebble Time is a budget oriented smartwatch, it doesn’t have to look budget oriented.  I know there’s only so much you can do with a color ePaper display, but Pebble could have done so much more with the graphics and SDK to have the time present a more professional, much more mature interface.  With items like the Apple Watch and the Olio Model One out there, a little more sophistication out of the Pebble Time couldn’t hurt, and would have been much welcomed.

The thing that bothers me the most about this, is that UI design choice “A” vs. UI design choice “B” doesn’t necessarily cost more.  You still have to draft it all out, create the screens, review the designs, etc., and having a more sophisticated, more professional look couldn’t have been more costly during its initial development.  The Time is a budget watch, yes, but it doesn’t have to look that way, does it?!  I know I’ve repeated myself here, but I mean… COME ON, people!

The original monochrome UI elements on the Pebble and Pebble Steel looked better than this, I think. Unfortunately, the implementation of color into your UI can bring out its weaknesses as much as it can show its strengths.  The design language needs to be changed here to allow for a more professional look and feel.  It would be nice if Pebble provided that option to its users in a future firmware update.

Pebble Time App

I’ve found this to be yet another huge disappointment.

The new Pebble Time smartphone companion app is really nothing more than the ORIGINAL Pebble app with a new coat of paint to allow for apps with color screens to be offered. While I don’t think you can use the new app to connect to the original Pebble or Pebble Steel – you still need the original app for that – it’s clear that all of the familiar apps from the original monochrome store are offered and available for the Time.

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New watch should have offered me a new companion app with a new UI and a new design and, as I mentioned above, a better app offering with much more professional graphics. I’ve got screen shots of the smartphone companion app below, and as you can see, and I think agree, this struck me as a “very familiar” (which isn’t necessarily bad) and “nothing special” experience (which isn’t good).

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The new store and new watch do offer the opportunity to get a better set of watch faces, but as you notice by running through the store, many of them are really nothing more than the old monochrome faces, now colored for the new ePaper display.  Again, a huge disappointment.

As with the original Pebble and Pebble Steel, the Pebble Time works with both iOS (running iOS 8 and higher) and Android (running 4.0 ICS and higher) smartphones.  So this is about as cross platform a smartwatch offering as you can get.

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The only downside to all of this is that if you really want to track any fitness info with the Time, you’re going to need a third party fitness tracker like the Misfit or Jawbone (recommended by Pebble) in order to do it.  Additional language and international character support for the Time is said to be coming soon.

Problems and Issues

I think I’ve covered most the of the issues that I’ve bumped into with the Pebble Time in other sections. I won’t go over them again here.

The biggest thing that you do need to be aware of if you’re upgrading to the Time from either the Pebble or Pebble Steel is that the bands are not interchangeable or reusable on the new watch.  Any favorite band styles will need to be repurchased for use with the Time. However, since the time uses a standard 22mm band, they shouldn’t be too difficult to find or replace.

Conclusion

The biggest problem that I have with the Pebble Time is that the device is a huge disappointment to me. It’s not a bad device, per se. There just isn’t anything here that would make me really WANT to upgrade from my Pebble Steel to the time – except its color ePaper display – and that certainly isn’t worth the cost of the new watch. In my opinion, the original Pebble Steel should have been introduced with a color display. It would have made much more sense, and honestly, would have totally negated the introduction or release of the Pebble Time. Perhaps we would have gotten something different or better if it had.

The Pebble Time should be considered the base line for any smartwatch.  It has all of the basic functionality that would be considered mandatory in a smartwatch.  The absence of any kind of native fitness tracking in the actual device, however, is a huge hole, and one that will really make individuals looking for a smartwatch stop and consider or reconsider its purchase.  Other devices exist for about or near the same cost that include the fitness stuff, and as such kinda make the Pebble Time a bit irrelevant even before it had a chance to make any kind of impact on the market.

The Pebble Time is currently available for pre-order (as of this writing) and will cost $199.99.

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Current Status – Where I’m at with the Summer Writing Projects

It’s been kinda quiet in “Christopher’s Corner” over the past few weeks. Here’s what’s been keeping me up late , with my summer writing projects.

Summer Writing Projects

This year has been an ambitious one for me. I’ve started a new job with a financial services firm in suburban Chicago in a senior leadership role. I’ve joined the Windows 10 Insider Team and am actively testing both the desktop and mobile versions of Windows 10.

In February of this year I began a smartwatch/ wearables roundup with the review of the Microsoft Band (that hyperlink is a link to Part 2 of my review. A link to part 1 can be found in the first line of that article). I followed that up in April with a review of the Fitbit Surge. I’ve also hit a couple of pot holes with Windows 10 that is really keeping me hopping. To be quite honest, things haven’t been very easy at all over here in the Windows 10 camp especially; and I’m beginning to wonder if I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew…

Here’s why – I’m also looking at the Apple Watch, trying to decipher it (I was going to say, “figure out what makes it tick,” but thought the better of it…). I’m trying to look at the Pebble Time, which I have in hand; and I’m also beginning to look at OS X 10.11 El Capitan and iOS 9 (both of which have had Beta 2 versions released).

I’ve got a whole lot of beta in my life right now; and honestly, it’s really messy.

I honestly don’t have iOS 9 installed on any of my iDevices as I don’t want that train wreck to interfere with any of the reviews I’m doing in the Wearables Round-Up. I had El Capitan installed on my MacBook Pro, but nuked and rebuilt my Mac as I bumped into a adware/spyware element from some software that I didn’t get from Soft32 – a huge mistake, by the way… all of our software is certified malware free – and had to rebuild the machine in order to get rid of it. I’m still in the tail end of that, as the malware had also infected my Time Machine backups and I can’t use it to restore ANYTHING. After I figure out which apps I have to redownload, reinstall and then reregister (some, like A Better Finder Rename and ClamXav were downloaded, installed and registered outside of either the Mac App Store or any other self-downloading or updating system), then I have to blow my Time Machine drive and let it automatically reestablish its backup schedule.

There are also some really big issues with Windows 10 right now, that go beyond whether or not you’re going to get the software for free. Build 10130 is a bit of a turd; and to be quite honest, my Surface Pro 3 is very unstable. I’m also having issues wiping it and moving back to Windows 8.1 (not that I want to stay there, but if you really want to clean install a beta build, the best thing to do is to go back to the last RTM point for it and build forward). I’m not certain if that’s the recovery media I have, or if there’s a firmware or other system software issue, or what, that’s preventing THAT from working.

A new firmware update has come out for the Surface Pro 3, and MY device still wants to download and install the MAY firmware update (showing as Firmware (or Hardware) Update 05/14/2015, in Windows Update) over and over and over and over and over… you get the picture… even if it’s been successfully installed. …Very frustrating.

I also happen to be a bit impatient. This can be a bad thing during a beta software run or any other testing situation, as impatience can often lead to additional errors or support problems. However, seeing as my Surface Pro 3 likes to download the same firmware update over and over again AND seeing as how the latest firmware update was released three days ago (and my SP3 is still trying to download the MAY update), I decided to see if the firmware update couldn’t be downloaded manually.

Most hardware OEM’s have support pages for their devices. Dell is famous for all of this; and I figured Microsoft had to have something similar. I was right, too.

You can find all of the latest Surface and Surface Pro support software, here.

Simply navigate to that page and then click the download button. You’ll be taken to a page where you can select exactly what files you want or need to download for your supported device.

WARNING – Only download and install software meant for your SPECIFIC Surface model.

I know this seems like a silly thing to say; but ALL of the files for all six (6) Surface Models – Surface, Surface 2, Surface 3, Surface Pro, Surface Pro 2 and Surface Pro 3 – are mixed together. They’re all named appropriately, but the model names and file names are all similar and it’s very easy to miss a model number or a “pro” and download the wrong support file. Attempting to install a file not meant for your device can cause serious, perhaps irreparable, damage to it. You need to be very careful.

I was able to find and download the firmware file I was looking for for my Surface Pro 3, and get it installed. Problem solved.

Anyway… let’s take a moment and run down a check list of where I am with everything so that everyone knows what’s what –

Wearables Roundup

Microsoft Band Review – Completed (Part 1, Part 2)
Fitbit Surge Review – Completed
Apple Watch Review – In process (Latest article – Personal Setup of the Apple Watch
Pebble Time Review – In process
Olio Model One Review – Waiting on hardware
Final Conclusions & Round Up – Pending completion of all individual reviews

Windows 10 Coverage

Latest Fast Ring Build – Build 10130
Latest Slow Ring Build – Build 10130
Latest Article – Windows 10 Build 10122 Status Update
Latest Mobile Fast Ring Build – Build 10149 (Write up is pending)

Apple Coverage

OS X 10.11 – Waiting on Stability & Public Beta Release
Current Build – Developer Preview 2 (Build 15A204b)
With the Apple Watch Review in play, I don’t want to negatively affect any connectivity between my Mac, my iPhone and my Watch.
iOS 9
Current Build – Beta 2 (Build 13A4280e)
With the Apple Watch Review in play, I don’t want to negatively affect any connectivity between my Mac, my iPhone and my Watch.

watchOS
Current Build – Beta 2 (Build 13S5255c)
Likely will not install during the Wearables Roundup period. I don’t want to screw up the Watch while its being reviewed, as not everyone will have access to the beta bits until its formal release in the Fall of 2015 (or unless and until Apple releases a public beta).

So this, kids, is why you haven’t seen a lot from me this past month. I’m working… Oh, you can bet your babushkas I’m working… I just either don’t have much to report, or I’m busy trying to troubleshoot and dig myself out of a hole due to software (and/or hardware interaction) bugs. However, I do plan on providing coverage this summer for all of the items you see here.

Do you have a Windows Machine? Are you a Microsoft Windows 10 Insider? Are you on the Fast Ring or the Slow Ring? Which Build do you currently have installed on your Windows PC? How well (or not) is it working for you? Do YOU think they will be ready to ready to release to the public on 2015-07-29?

Do you have a Mac? Are you a Mac Developer Program member? Have you downloaded and installed OS X 10.11 El Capitan? Have you downloaded and installed the latest version of iOS 9 to your iDevice? How well (or not) is they working for you? If you’re not a Developer Program member, will you install any of the public betas on your Mac or iDevice(s)?

I’d love to hear from you to find out where you are and what your experience has been with all of this. What issues have you bumped into? What issues have you heard about, but not experienced? Why don’t you join me in the discussion area below and give me your current status and tell me how things are (or are not) working for you?

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Personal Setup of the Apple Watch

Sometimes maybe, its just better to go it alone…

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Wearable computers aren’t as intuitive as you might think. In fact, the whole category is a bit confusing. Its so confusing, that you may have trouble figuring out what is and what isn’t a smartwatch vs. what is and isn’t a fitness band, and which ones really kinda “cross the streams” and are a bit of both.

When you constantly have new players making a splash in this pool full of offerings, its hard not to end up all wet. And that’s a HUGE statement, if you take a few moments and try to noodle that one through…

So, in order to try to make things a bit easier on my wife – who’s new to the whole wearables category – and to me – who knows a bit but not totally EVERYTHING on the Apple Watch in particular – I thought it might be a really great idea to have both of us. What I experienced wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be.

This whole post should be tagged with – your mileage may vary…The videos are also a bit long. So, you may want to skip through a bit. Apple’s Personal Setup process is free, and it takes you through the initial unboxing and setup of the device, right out of the box. You can, if you wish, have them take you through Personal Setup on any product you purchase, even AT time of purchase. I saw one person unbox a 27″ iMac and another, a 13″ MacBook Pro.

Initial Unboxing and Setup

Here, the unboxing has finished and the Genius is taking my wife through the pairing process with her iPhone. There’s a lot of clicking through that’s done here, and not enough explanation, in my opinion. The pairing process is interesting. You hold your phone, camera and Apple Watch app active, over your Watch, while the watch shows some sort of strange particle graphic on its screen. The active graphic’s pattern is supposed to uniquely identify the watch to your phone and silently pair both a regular and a Bluetooth-LE partnership (though only one partnership is listed in MY Devices under, Bluetooth Settings)

Pairing and Initial Setup

The pairing process is done here. My wife described the pairing pattern on the watch as looking like the Teseract from the Avengers. She wasn’t far off. After you pair the Watch with your phone, it wants to know where you’re going to wear it (right or left wrist) and then your Apple ID and password.

Configuring the Watch

Here, configuration choices are made for the Watch. Here, there’s a lot of tapping an OK button. The decision to put a passcode on your Watch is made. If you don’t want to put a passcode on your Watch, then you won’t be able to use Apple Pay on the Watch. Apple Pay = use a passcode!

Apps… here you have to be careful. Every app that you have on your phone that has a Glance, will automatically install that Glance on your phone. If you don’t be careful (I was going to say, “watch…” sheesh!!), you’re going to overload on Glances, and then, you’re likely never going to use ANY of them. You’re also going to get Notification overload, so you have to be careful about what you install on the Watch.

Oh, and if you’re stuck for a camera remote – so you can take a stickless selfie – you can use the Watch to snap the shutter on your iPhone’s camera. Its all kinda cool.

Its So Complicated

Changing your Watch face starts with a force touch. Right now you get about eight or so watch faces. All of the little information icons on any of the included Watch faces are called, “complications.” They can show you cool things like the phases of the moon, the current, local temperature, the time in other time zones, etc.

Some Watch faces can only have a couple complications on them. Others can have one in each corner, at least. What you can’t do, at this time, however, is construct your own Watch face from all of the elements available to the watch. You have to pick from preconfigured Watch faces and then only specific complications are available in each spot where one is placed. You also can’t move the complications to another location on the Watch face. There are a few options, but not many.

The Apple Watch is an amazing piece of electronic fare. It can do a lot, but can you get it to do what YOU really want it to do. I’m hard at work trying to crack this nut, and I’m close to the point where I can start writing this review. Look for it in the next few weeks!

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Windows Mobile 10 Build 10136 Released to Fast Ring Insiders

If you’ve got a supported device and are testing, you’re in for a surprise…

Windows Mobile 10 Build 10136

Ring master Gabe Aul from Microsoft has released Windows Mobile 10 Build 10136 to Fast Ring Windows Insiders as of noon-thirty CDT on 2015-0-16. If you’re a Windows Insider and you’re registered for Fast Ring Builds, AND you’ve got a supported mobile device, you can expect a little bit of additional love from Microsoft today.  This build replaces Build 10080, released to Fast Ring Insiders on 2015-05-15; or about a month ago.

The first thing you need to know is that no new phones are supported in this Build. I have that directly from Gabe Aul:

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I’m finding this a bit problematic.

There aren’t a lot of Windows Phones on the market.  There really aren’t.  I have a BLU WinHD LTE, and it has Windows Phone 8.1 Update 2 on it, but the device isn’t supported for testing Windows 10 Mobile yet.  This may be partially because the WPRT (Windows Phone Recovery Tool) doesn’t have a Windows phone 8.x recovery image for it (yet??); or it may be because Microsoft just isn’t opening the device testing pool open to any non-Lumia device besides the HTC One M8 (but again… How many different types of Windows Phones are available, REALLY?!?)

Secondly, if you want to install this build, you’re going to need to do so from Windows Phone 8.1.  You can’t do it from Windows Mobile Build 10080.  The upgrade won’t be offered to you.  To get the build, you’re going to have to use the WPRT (Windows Phone Recovery Tool) to restore your phone back to Windows Phone 8.1 and then go through any and all WP8.1 upgrades (recommended, but not required).  After that, you’ll need to download and install the Windows Insider app, register for the Fast Ring, reboot your phone and then check for updates.

Once the update installs, it’s been reported that the upgrade lock screen will appear frozen, without the date and time on it, for up to 10 minutes.  Stop!  Leave it alone. It’s actually processing stuff in the background.  The Windows Insider Team has instructed users experiencing this to be patient and let the device sit and finish. It will eventually show the date and time and allow you to unlock the device and use it. If you get impatient and restart the device or try locking/unlocking your phone, you’ll wind up in a “funky state.”  Leaving the device alone so it can finish the upgrade process is the recommended and proper action.

In a nutshell, here are the changes:

New

Tons of fit and finish changes: There are far too many subtle changes in the UX to cover; but spit and polish are starting to be applied.

Improvements to Cortana: Cortana is now very close to the final design. She’s gotten smarter and she’s had some previously disabled abilities turned back on.

Photos and Camera Improvements: General improvements are available to everyone. If you’ve got a Lumia device,Lumia Camera Beta can also be your default camera app.

One-Handed Use:   The experience on larger devices – those with a screen of 5 inches or greater – is now much better.  Press and hold the Start button and your screen will slide down so you can reach items at the top of your screen.  The screen slides back up when you tap the Back button.

Resolved Bugs

  • We have fixed the MMS bug in Build 10080, and you should receive MMS messages normally.
  • We have fixed the issue where touch will stop responding on the Lock screen preventing you from swiping up to unlock your phone.
  • We have fixed some visual glitches in Action Center when expanding/collapsing.
  • We have fixed the issue where the text in the People app was too small.
  • When you toggle the Wi-Fi quick action in Action Center, it now disables/enables Wi-Fi instead of taking you to the Wi-Fi Settings page. This was one of the top 5 pieces of feedback we heard from Windows Insiders.
  • Your Start screen background should be scaled correctly now.
  • You can add a detailed status to display on your Lock screen from apps like Outlook Calendar without having the Settings app crash.
  • We also fixed the issue where a mouse cursor would appear when pressing the back button on your phone.

Known Issues

  • After upgrading, you will still see duplicate tiles for apps like Search and Phone under All Apps.
  • If you have too many PIN unlock attempts, you’ll see the “enter A1B2C3” reset experience. However, there is an issue in this build where after you enter the code you won’t see the PIN pad. The workaround is to press Emergency Call after entering the code, then press Back and you’ll be able to enter your PIN.
  • We recommend disabling the double-tap-to-wake feature on some Lumia devices by going to the Settings app then Extras > Touch > Wake to prevent any accidental PIN unlock attempts.
  • There is an issue that may cause Skype not to work after upgrade. The best workaround is to uninstall Skype on Windows Phone 8.1 *before* you upgrade to this build and then reinstall it after upgrading. If you miss that step though, you can usually resolve by uninstalling it and reinstalling from the Store once you’re on 10136.
  • If you’re having issues installing new Language Packs in this build, see this forum post.

You can check out the specifics on the Windows 10 Blog, here.

 

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Backup, sync and protect your data with SpiderOak

Backup, sync and protect your data with this cross platform, cloud-based tool.

SpiderOak

Cloud storage is something that everyone should have. Everyone. Period. Everywhere. You should also have more than one backup or instance of your data on more than one service. You should be using, for example, OneDrive AND Google Drive AND Dropbox AND SpiderOak. Yes… SpiderOak. It’s a very cool, very secure, multi-platform, cloud-based sync service, and it’s pretty cool.

Back in 2011, one of the first articles I wrote for InformationWeek was a roundup of cloud-based backup services, and SpiderOak made the cut then. It’s a GREAT service that doesn’t get half as much lime light as it really deserves. Its biggest draw – privacy. SpiderOak can’t look at your data. They don’t have your encryption keys.

SpiderOak encrypts all of your data on its servers. This means that only YOU can get at your data. No plaintext data, no keys, or file meta data is ever stored on their servers. All this ensures absolute confidentiality of your data. SpiderOak couldn’t decrypt it, even if ordered to by a court of law.

The service is fast. I’ve been using it for quite some time now, and SpiderOak always has my data up and synchronized well before any of the other services I use. I’m not certain if it’s the compression they’re using or some other feature; but it’s always, quick, accurate and reliable.

SpiderOak is the leading private backup solution and has 100% Zero Knowledge of your data. You can get 2GB of space for free, or 1TB of space for only $12 a month. Plans start at $7 a month for 30GB; and go up to 5TB. You can pay monthly or annually; and you can upgrade, downgrade or cancel your plan at any time.

The only issue that I see with SpiderOak is the same issue that I see with OneDrive – they don’t offer enough space on their free plan; and then their 1TB plan is $2USD more expensive than Google Drive. However, that shouldn’t deter you for using this 100% private service. SpiderOak is an awesome service and one that I can’t recommend highly enough. Stop what you’re doing and download it now, especially if privacy and cloud storage is a concern to you. This is a must have.

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Play any video on your Mac with Elmedia Player

Play any video on your Mac with this cool media player

elmedia-player

Many people have asked me over the last 12 years, “Chris, why did you switch to a Mac as your daily driver when you’re a Windows expert?” The answer, is really very simple – multimedia. The Mac is so much better at handling, playing, organizing, etc. multimedia with native tools than a Windows machine. Besides, I use an iPhone and an iPad on a daily basis. Yeah… plus one or two others. This is one of the reasons why apps like Elmedia Player are really important to me. This app gives me multimedia options I don’t get just anywhere else.

Elmedia is a free media player for Mac that supports various audio & video formats, including, but not limited to, FLV, SWF, MP4, AVI, MOV, MP4, DAT, AAC and MP3. The app features a built-in web browser that allows you to watch online videos directly from the app, while Open URL enables you to do it without any of the noisy ads that often are found with the videos you want to watch.

The app has a 10-band Equalizer to shape your audio tone, a video tuner to help improve video playback quality, the ability to change a video’s aspect ratio so that it appropriately fits your monitor of choice, and the ability to optimize your video viewing by adjusting playback speeds. Elmedia can play video in full screen mode or pin player window on top of other running apps so you do not miss a moment of a movie. The player has its own volume control, the ability to allow you to edit subtitles, and more.

Elmedia Player is a strong third party media player that offers a number of different options to Mac users who don’t want to use either iTunes or QuickTime to play media. Its small, fast and easy to use, and best of all – free. Its Open URL option enables accessing YouTube videos directly from the app without the need to first bring up a browser. If you know the URL, you’re all set.

 

Videos can be viewed in full screen mode and allow you to both show and hide the control panel; and will deactivate your screensaver during full screen playback. If you need to work while you watch, you can also make the video player window float over everything else. Elmedia Player also has specific SWF settings that allow you to set playback quality as well as activating local Flash security to keep your Mac safe in case you’re not exactly certain if the file contains malware or not.

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Apple Watch First Impressions

I’ve had it for about a week. Here’s what I’m thinking so far…

Introduction to my Apple Watch First Impressions
While the rest of the world thinks that any news on the Apple Watch is passing, passé… I beg to differ. I received my Apple Watch on 2015-05-19. I waited a few days until I was able to have a personal setup session with Apple at the Apple Store Main Place in Naperville, IL, before I started wearing the device full time.

apple-watch-first-impressions

The thought for me, was multi-purposed –

  1. I wanted the full court press from Apple for myself
  2. I wanted my wife to have a pampered experience
  3. The Apple Watch is new and like the iPhone of 2007, a bit unknown
  4. The Apple Watch is a complex device, requiring knowledge of and familiarity with
    a. its own UI
    b. Apple Pay,
    c. Notification Center, and
    d. the iPhone and Apple Watch App Stores

I consider myself to be somewhat of an expert when it comes to smartwatches and other wearables. After the Pebble Steel, the Microsoft Band, and the Fitbit Surge, I’d better be. I’ve got the Apple Watch as well as the Olio Model One and the Pebble Time to consider as well before my wearables roundup is completed.

General
I was speaking with a fellow tech pundit about this recently, and he wanted to know where and how I was basing all of these preliminary opinions on. I’ve had the Pebble Steel and the Nike Fuel Band, so I think I have a decent idea of what a smartwatch should and shouldn’t do. Spending over a year with the Nike Fuel Band has also helped me understand what a fitness band should provide its wearer as well. Yeah, with him its all about credibility and proving your premise. Without that foundation, all of this might be a load of hot air.

The Apple Watch is supposed to be the Holy Grail of smartwatches. To an extent it is, but I don’t know if it’s going to be the home run that everyone hopes or wants it to be. I’m still working through how it works; and there’s a LOT more to it than any other wearable I’ve looked at thus far, but I kinda knew that, but didn’t know I knew, ya know? So I’m trying to be objective about all of this and not form a solid opinion without having spent some REAL time with the device, but there are a few things that I know for certain; and they were fairly evident right out of the box. Literally…
Band & Watch Hardware
I’ve had watches with silicone and rubber bands before. Yeah… they pretty much suck. I was really surprised when Apple announced the Apple Watch with a fluoroelastomer (read: rubber) band. But if you recall, I was really surprised by how very much unrubber like my Apple Watch band was. The band is very soft, supple and surprisingly, very comfortable to wear. You really can’t feel it at all when it strapped to your wrist, and my guess is that even when exercising, you aren’t going to capture or retain too much sweat underneath the Watch. At least I didn’t when spreading five cubic yards of mulch in the gardens in my yard.

The Watch casing is solid, and surprisingly light. From what I saw on the internet, I expected it to have a bit of weight, and it really doesn’t. When viewed from the side, you definitely get a 2007 flashback to the original iPhone. Not that that’s a bad thing, but it isn’t all that great, either. Given the design genius that is Jony Ive, I really was expecting something more modern and more angular. However, with such a large screen – it really doesn’t have a bezel that blocks the display – it is very readable, and very large. Thankfully, the screen doesn’t look too large on my medium sized wrist, I think.

Apple Watch UI
There’s a lot to say here, and a lot I’ve got to learn about the OS and the UI before I can make any real comments. So, from a general perspective, I’m going to reserve final comments on the UI for the review, that will be published later. However, there are a few things that I want to hit and make certain everyone hears now rather than later.

Notifications
This is one area where you really have to be careful. Its VERY easy to get Notification Overload when you use this or any kind of wearable that helps you manage notifications. Apple Watch by default turns on notifications to “mirror the exact settings on your iPhone;” but that’s not always how things work out.

I’m not big into text messaging. A lot of people get into trouble with distracted driving, or distracted relationships because they pay more attention to their iDevice and the text messages they receive than the world around them (when driving) or to the people they’re with. I honestly only send and receive text messages with just a handful of people – my wife and my daughter. I occasionally text with my son in law, but as we’re guys, we only really do it when we absolutely have to, because otherwise, its just weird. Other than that, the other Messages threads I have are either my wife and my daughter, my wife and my son in law, my daughter and my son in law or all three of them. Do you see a pattern there, I really don’t text at all.

I wanted to remove Messages from my Watch entirely, but currently, like the Fitbit Surge you can’t. I really dinged the daylights out of Fitbit on that one, and unless Apple comes out with a WatchOS update that corrects that while I’m writing my review, they’re going to get dinged too. I can turn off notifications for just about anything, but the data still comes across to the Watch.

That’s wrong. I should be able to turn some things off completely; and right now, I just can’t.

I would expect something similar to the UI you have on your iPad or your Mac where you can enable or disable Messages and FaceTime on those devices and still be signed in with your Apple ID. Currently, its an all or nothing deal – if you want any level of Apple sync services on your Apple Watch, then you have to sign in with your Apple ID, and you get everything. Period. You can turn off the notifications for Messages and other content, but the information still comes across the synch connection to your Apple Watch.

Apps
The Apple Watch doesn’t have any native apps as of this writing. Right now, the best we’re going to get are Glances, and those are mini-apps that are accessed from the main Watch face, by swiping UP from the bottom of the display. They’re nice, but they don’t do enough; and there really isn’t a way for them to do much more.

You can’t install glances on your Apple Watch without first installing the associated app on your iPhone. If you uninstall the app, you also lose the glance. You can uninstall the glance from your Watch without removing the app from your iPhone.

The biggest problem with this model is that if you have an Apple Watch, and you install an app on your iPhone, if that app also has a glance, you get it installed on your Watch whether you want it or not.

Apple Watch App
Every smartwatch has its app. Some of them, like the Pebble, need to run in the background all the time, even though you also have to have Bluetooth. Thankfully, this isn’t the way that the Apple Watch app works.

Here, you choose your options and then you can quit the app, which is really kinda nice. I like that part of the app. What I really don’t like, though is how the app is an all or nothing game. What I’m talking about is the way apps install – with the Apple Watch, its really all or nothing. When you install an iPhone app that has an Apple Watch Glance, it automatically gets installed too… whether you want it to or not.

I’ll have more on the app in the review.

Battery Life
I really have to say that I’m very surprised.

Battery life on the Watch is much better than I thought it would be, at least during the one day that you’re guaranteed that the device will hold a charge. At the end of any given day, I have more than somewhere around 50% charge left on the device, in real world use. While I know I’m not going to get much more than say… 28 – 36 hours out of a single charge… while I’ve got the Watch on and I’m out and about, I really don’t think – based on my usage – that I’m going to run out of power or have it go into Power Reserve (where it only tells time, and nothing else, because I don’t have enough juice to push any real functionality).

So… so far, battery life is OK, given that I know I have to charge the Watch every night while I sleep. However, it would be nice to know that a single charge could realistically last me a week or more. However, other than the Pebble and Pebble Steel, I don’t know of a smartwatch on the market today that can realistically last that long between charges; but it would be really awesome if the Apple Watch did just that…

Conclusion
I’ll be honest… the jury is out on this one. Yeah, it looks and feels great. Yeah its bright and easy to read in the sunlight. Yeah, it really does a lot; but perhaps it does too much. The Apple Watch requires pairing with an iPhone right now. The Apple Watch doesn’t work without one. Mirroring what the iPhone does may keep you out of your phone a bit; but you have to watch how and what you do with it or you’re going to get overloaded with notifications, and confused with all of the cute stuff it does.

Over the next few weeks while I use the Apple Watch and try to customize it for my specific needs, I’m going to do my best to keep this in mind and then hopefully, I’ll be able to crack this nut. Honestly, I really feel as thought I’d better… I don’t want to put the Apple Watch aside. Its too expensive to shove in a drawer, and I really don’t want to sell it.

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Olio – Did the Cat Finally Build a Smarter Mouse Trap?

Contestant number five has entered the ring…

olio

One of the bigger things to hit the market this year is wearables. Things like Microsoft Band (part two of the review can be seen here), the Fitbit Surge, the Apple Watch (review pending arrival of the hardware), Pebble Time and Time Steel are all wearables – specifically smartwatches – that will have been released or will be released later this year. As of the first of this month (yes, April 1st; but no, this isn’t a joke), a new player has thrown their hat into the ring – meet the Olio Model One.

The device…? Oh my stars and garters, yes! Have you seen this thing?!

The Model One is beautiful. It’s made of stainless steel and basically comes in two flavors – (brushed?) Stainless Steel and Black. And while it is DEFINITELY drool-worthy, it’s got a few hurdles to get past.

The device itself runs on a proprietary OS

According to Olio, people spend WAY too much time in their computers, in their smartphones and tablets and shortly, in their smartwatches… that are tethered and tied to their smartphones. Olio wants their users to think of the Model One as an extension of themselves and not something that drives them or makes them live in it. As such, there’s no app store to bury you in apps. You get what you’re given (at least initially).

While the device obtains connectivity via both Android and iOS wireless devices, there aren’t any apps for you to run on the watch other than the ones that come with the device. While it does have an “assistant” of sorts, called Olio Assist, providing time saving suggestions, the limited – but value-added – functionality of (just) what comes out of the box, is where Olio sees the Model One hitting the sweet spot. You don’t get lost or waste hours of time playing Flappy Bird (or one of its many device based, or online clones). Instead, you focus on the information you need and only the information you need, so you spend time instead to your family, friends and loved ones.

However, most of the world wants apps. Its why we buy smart devices, and without an app store or a market (more on that, below), you have to wonder what the draw will be? Yeah it looks GREAT; and people at Tech Crunch, The Verge, and Gizmodo, all think saving you from “notification hell” is the bomb; and maybe it is.

Maybe it is….

I know that it drove me a bit nuts with the Microsoft Band, and it didn’t work right on the Surge; but when things are configurable, as they are on Band (and are supposed to be on the Surge), then you have to think a bit more about the purchase. For example, there aren’t any apps or even an app store for Band, either… (and its $400 cheaper).

And by the way, there’s no fitness band functionality here that I can see. This is a smartwatch and not a smartwatch that also measures physical activity. It doesn’t have any activity sensors, a GPS, a accelerometer, or a gyroscope. The functionality appears limited at this time.

It’s Expensive
Yeah… let’s talk about that for a sec.

While Microsoft Band is clearly affordable at $199.99, the Olio Model One is $345 – $395 for the Steel flavor and $495 – $545 for the Black flavor as of this writing with the $250 “friends and family” discount that’s being extended to the public. Normally, we’re talking $595 – $645 for Steel and $745 – $795 for Black (which puts their metal link bracelets at around $50 bucks over their leather bands).

The Olio Model One runs in the same neighborhood as the Apple Watch and Apple Watch Sport. The pricing models may be very different, but their close enough to be similar. You can clearly get a decent and high end analog watch for about as much AND get the band you want, too.

The device has a stainless steel case and an ion exchange glass touch screen that is supposed to survive impacts and resist scratches. It has wireless charging with a battery that can last a full two days with full functionality and then an additional two days, if you turn off connectivity to its Bluetooth-LE radio. The Model One can communicate with both Siri and Google Now via Olio Assist; and can control third party smart devices like thermostats and lights. It’s also water resistant so you don’t have to worry about ruining it when you take a swim.

The Model One is clearly a premium product; and maybe all of this is worth the premium price to you. I’m skeptical at best, at least until I have it in my hands.

It’s got an Initial Production Run of Just 1000
The Model One is a limited edition device.

Other companies release things in “limited edition,” and then they really aren’t limited at all. Olio’s first run of the Model One is limited to 1000 units – Five hundred of each the Steel and Black flavors. According to Olio,

“We decided to do a very limited production for its first release because the company is committed to the quality and craftsmanship and wanted to make sure that every piece holds up the high standards of the company. Olio compares themselves to a craft brewery, and aren’t trying to be everything to everyone.”

Olio likens itself to a craft beer brewery. Brian Ruben from ReadWrite.com said it best, I think. “if I buy a six-pack of a craft brew and I don’t like what I drink, I’m not out $600. Plus, I don’t have to call tech support.”

While the limited run and the high price are, I think, partial marketing tools to help create hype (as well as tech coverage by a number of different outlets, including yours truly and Soft32, at the end of the day you have to wonder how viable a company with such a limited production run with such a high end product will be. Olio appears to be artificially creating a limited supply in order to make the device’s value appear higher. Things that are rare ARE considered more valuable.

Diamonds, like the Hope Diamond, with such a highly desired cut, level of clarity and precision cut ARE rare and ARE very valuable. Olio hopes that watch aficionados see the Model One in the same light and don’t ding it for its digital guts as they do with nearly every other smartwatch; and with nothing really to compare it to (the Apple Watch isn’t even available for pre-order as of this writing, and hasn’t hit the market with either a splash or a thud…), it’s hard to see how well or how poorly the Olio Model One will do.

Have you seen the Olio Model One? Does it interest you? Will you buy one? Stay tuned to Soft32 as 2015 truly does appear to be the Year of Wearables. I’ll have more coverage on devices as they are released or as they make news.

In the meantime, if you have any questions, please let me know in the comments and discussion area, below.

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